Game Day: Florida Panthers at Washington Capitals

Florida kept its momentum alive with an exciting, history-making 3-2 shootout win in Philadelphia on Thursday night. Rookie Jonathan Huberdeau and first-year Panther Peter Mueller proved to be the real deal in the shootout session. The 19-year-old Huberdeau gave Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov a big-time fake and easily slid the puck by the Russian netminder. Mueller, meanwhile, zipped a wrister by Bryzgalov, while Florida goalie Jose Theodore was rock solid the entire game, including the shootout when he denied both Matt Read, who has scored four goals against the Cats, and Claude Giroux for the easy 2-0 win in the shootout period. It was the first time in Florida history that it had won a shootout in just two rounds.

The optimism of Philly soon transformed into the stark realization that the NHL is business first as the team moved on to Washington and learned that defenseman Keaton Ellerby, a healthy scratch against the Flyers, had been traded to the Los Angeles Kings for a fifth-round draft pick this year. My last encounter with Ellerby was  in the dressing room after the home win over Winnipeg. He smacked me with his bulky bag of gear while leaving as I interviewed Peter Mueller. Ellerby was apologetic, saying, “Hey, man, sorry.” Nice to the end, Ellerby was a player you really wanted to see succeed because he was great in the room, worked hard and was a good teammate, as he demonstrated in Tampa when he went after B.J. Crombeen for kneeing Ed Jovanovski.

Assistant GM Mike Santos told the Miami Herald’s George Richards that the move was made to free up roster space, especially as the club gets healthier. The organization obviously felt it had given the 24-year-old Ellerby, the No.10 overall pick in the 2007 draft, time to develop but the Alberta native had failed to live up to the expectation of being a first-round selection. Tyson Strachan, who brings a big shot, should benefit and get more ice time with Ellerby’s departure. Expect younger San Antonio blueliners Colby Robak and Alex Petrovic to be the first to get the nod if future holes develop in the defense.

WEISS MOVE — Among the Panthers who played well in Philadelphia was Stephen Weiss, who made the most of his first goal of the season. His power-play tally off a pass from Tomas Fleischmann evened the score at 2-2 and set up Florida for its shootout heroics. Weiss has 41 points (14-27-41) in 48 career games played against the Capitals. The point total is the most by Weiss against any NHL team, and he led the Panthers with three goals against Washington last season.

Enjoy this video of a great comeback and a Weiss shorty:

MAKING ITS POINT — After being written off by many in the media after its first six games, Florida has rebounded with points in its last four outings, only failing to come away with two points against Winnipeg in Tuesday’s overtime loss that occurred in the final 15 seconds of the five-minute extra session. The Panthers’ win over the Flyers was particularly important as everyone else in the Southeast Division lost in regulation except Carolina, a 3-2 overtime winner at Ottawa.

CAP-ITALIZING — While the Capitals are struggling through a dismal season — the team is 2-8-1 and has a league-low five points — Florida has had a difficult time in the nation’s capital. The Panthers wrested the Southeast Division title from the Capitals by two points last year, despite Washington winning four of six meetings, including all three in the Verizon Center.

TOUGH TIMES IN D.C. — Washington fans have had very little to cheer about, which stems from what Barry Melrose has called a general laziness and lack of effort by the team in coach Adam Oates’ first season behind the bench. The offense has been poor for a club featuring skilled stars like Alex Ovechkin (3 goals), Nicklas Backstrom (1) and Mike Ribeiro (4). Only the latter’s goal total would tie Florida leading goal scorers Brian Campbell and Peter Mueller. More significantly, the Caps have had mediocre goaltending, with neither Michal Neuvirth (1-4-1, 3.05) or Braden Holtby (1-4-0, 4.74) playing well at all.

Florida (4-5-1) at Washington (2-8-1)

Sat., Feb. 9, 7 p.m.

Verizon Center — Washington, D.C.

BY THE NUMBERS

FLA                            vs.                    WSH

22.7% (11th)        Power play       21.4% (13th)
76.7% (21st)        Penalty kill     70.6% (27th)
2.40  (21st)        Goals per gm  2.27  (24th)
3.67  (28th)        Goals against    3.73  (29th)
0.50  (30th)        5-on-5 goals     0.60  (27th)
51.6% (7th)         Faceoffs           47.3% (24th)
27.9  (21st)        Shots per gm     28.1  (20th)

PANTHERS’ PACE

Florida has 9 points in 10 games: 43.2 over 48 games.

LOCAL TV BROADCAST

Fox Sports Florida, 7 p.m.

Steve Goldstein (PxP), Bill Lindsay (Color)

LOCAL RADIO

560 WQAM, 7 p.m.

Randy Moller (PxP)

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